RTÉ rugby analyst Donal Lenihan believes the IRFU’s policy of centrally contracting players gives Ireland head coach Joe Schmidt a major advantage over other teams in the Six Nations.
Ireland completed a hugely impressive Grand Slam with a convincing win over England at Twickenham on Saturday and much has been made of the decline of the English team in the aftermath of that game.
One of the reasons given for the English slump is player burn-out, with a hectic club schedule and a tightly packed Lions’ Tour all being cited as factors in the form of some of their biggest names.
Lenihan believes that the IRFU and Schmidt are able to avoid such issues because of the amount of control they can exercise over their players at club level thanks to their use of central contracts.
Under the scheme, the IRFU pays the contracts of provincial players but gets to decide when those players are available for their clubs and when they should be rested.
Clubs in England weld much more power than the RFU when it comes to selecting when players are available and when they’re rested and, for Lenihan, this is a factor in England’s current form.
"If everybody could turn the clock back to 1995, they would implement the system that we have" pic.twitter.com/i8NbzBp6Oj— RTÉ Rugby (@RTErugby) March 19, 2018
"They’re talking about England and some of their players being tired after the Lions and all that," he said on RTÉ2's Against the Head.
"That is the beauty of our system, we only have the four teams but this player welfare system in Ireland, it maximises the benefits of the players.
"Somebody game me a stat over the weekend that Maro Itoje had played six games for Saracens before we had some of our Lions back.
"The bottom line is, we have an advantage because all of our players are contracted to the union and we use it to get the best out of what we have. We shouldn’t apoligise for that."
Lenihan believes that if the RFU had their time over again, they would implement a central contract system and lessen the power of the clubs.
"If everybody could turn the clock back 20-odd years to 1995, they would implement the system that we have with central contracting."
Bernard Jackman echoed Lenihan’s comments and claimed that Joe Schmidt’s opposite numbers at England and Wales would love to be in a similar position to the Ireland boss when it comes to the level of control he has over his squad.
"It’s the envy of Eddie Jones today and Warren Gatland doesn’t have that level of control over his regional players."